It’s proving to be a pivotal few weeks for the £7 million ($9.77 million) U.K. Global Screen Fund (UKGSF).
Launched earlier this year by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the British Film Institute (BFI), the fund is widely seen as the U.K. government’s replacement for the money disbursed by Creative Europe’s MEDIA program, which ceased once Brexit came into effect.
A one-year pilot, the UKGSF is designed to be a new source of international distribution, business development and co-production coin for U.K. companies in the film, TV, documentary, animation and interactive sectors.
The ambition is that the UKGSF helps U.K. indies spread their wings on the global stage, not just with partners in the EU but with other international territories as well.
Earlier this week, former All3Media exec VP of corporate development Denitsa Yordanova was named as head of the UKGSF.
Applications for grant money also open this week for one of UKGSF’s three core funding strands, focused on international co-production.
The co-production investment strand aims to support U.K. companies to be partners in international co-productions, sharing IP and revenue of film and TV animation and documentary projects with audience potential (see below for more detail).
Meanwhile, applications close next week (June 30) for the UKGSF strand focused on international distribution, which offers financial support to U.K. sales agents for the international promotion and sales of live action and animated fiction and documentary U.K. feature film projects. Up to £60,000 for a single eligible “packaged film” or up to £10,000 for a single eligible “pre-sale film” is available.
Soon after, on July 16, applications close for the third element of the U.K. Global Screen Fund – the strand focused on international business development. This provides financial support for business strategies to create, acquire and/or exploit IP for increased international revenue and profile. Non-repayable grants of between £50,000 and £200,000 are available for businesses across film, TV, animation and interactive narrative video games.
Alongside the financial support for U.K. indies, the U.K. Global Screen Fund will also roll out a new international promotional campaign for U.K. screen content. Further investment is earmarked for a new data hub that aims to provide international data so that financiers, content creators, sales agents and distributors can make better-informed funding decisions.
The fact that the U.K. government freed up cash for the UKGSF amid the COVID-19 crisis is notable in itself, reckons Neil Peplow, BFI director of industry and international affairs, and reflects its belief in the growth potential of the screen industries. The money comes from the DCMS, and the fund is administered by the BFI. As a result, the focus is on commercial outcomes, building partnerships and networks, and reaching audiences. “The DCMS have really put a lot of effort in to get this across the line,” says Peplow.
Bennett McGhee, co-founder of film and TV production company Home Team, and producer of the Riz Ahmed-starring “Mogul Mowgli,” says: “As a producer, you’re looking for as many opportunities for funding as possible. We’re trying to tell stories on an ambitious scale. The fund is another weapon in the arsenal for producers trying to fund projects.”
Peplow says it’s difficult to “replicate the scale of reciprocity” that is built into the Creative Europe MEDIA program. “What we could do is mirror the value chain, and then look at each of the areas that the independent sector needs support in – from the development of international IP, the production of that content, and then its distribution.”
Peplow stresses that the UKGSF has been created after widespread consultation with the industry to work out its specific funding needs. He also points out that this is a pilot year for the fund, and that the hope is that a bigger, “multi-year settlement” for the UKGSF might be secured in the Treasury’s next Spending Review.
The £7 million will be allocated in “quite a fluid” way between each of the key strands. Given that the Fund is so new, the BFI will use the pilot year to judge where the demand will come from. Indeed, Peplow underlines that the first year of the fund will be very much about learning and adapting to the needs of the industry. “Especially in a COVID year, it’s difficult to really judge what is in the pipeline in terms of production and distribution. So, we didn’t want to put a hard and fast sum in any of the funding rounds.”
The International Co-production strand, which opens this week, will allocate a non-repayable grant of up to £300,000 per project. It is targeted at “minority” feature film co-productions in any language and any genre, including fiction, animation and documentary, which are co-produced with international partners, as well as minority or majority television co-productions in the animation and documentary genres only, in any language, which are co-produced with international partners.
The strand is open to experienced independent U.K. producers whose project must have raised at least 60% of the overall finance, and which needs to secure, or have already secured, at least one other source of U.K. funding.
The ambition is to support international co-production projects with strong export potential and international audience reach, and to increase the visibility, level of financial and creative input, revenues and international track record of U.K. producers.
Attica Dakhil, UKGSF fund manager for production and business development, says commercial criteria will form a key basis for funding decisions, all with an eye on driving international growth.
For Dakhil, it’s about “supporting producers to grow their international partnerships, but also to participate in the co-production of collaborative projects that tell stories which are cross-border, and are not just from one perspective but from multilateral perspectives.”
Assessments for funding will look at whether a sales agent is attached, or a distribution deal or pre-sale is in place through to how much funding has already been secured. They will also weigh up potential revenues for the producer, or whether it will help the producer to gain increased visibility on the international stage.
Ultimately, the ambition is to support producers to become more international in outlook, and to build reciprocity and relationships with partners around the world. “There’s been a squeeze on the independent sector, with changing business models and the way that films are reaching audiences,” says Peplow. “International collaborations will become more important because they will give access to new sources of finance, and to different audiences as well.”
Building international networks takes time, acknowledges Peplow. They also have to be based “at some point” on the U.K. screen sector or partners providing minority partnership funding, he adds. Then, in the future, the partner is likely to do the same for a U.K. project.
Says Dakhil: “It will put U.K. producers in a better place internationally because they will be able to offer something financially as well as creatively.”
Feature film and documentary producer Janine Marmot of Hot Property Films says the co-production strand is of particular interest for her company, and is pleased that docs are included in the scope of UKGSF. “Too often, documentary is treated as the poor relation,” she says.
Marmot has been making films for around 35 years, and says that nearly all of them have been majority U.K. co-productions with British talent and IP. “I tend to go to European partners when I’m more or less financed, with a small gap,” explains Marmot. “I’ve worked with most European countries and it has been a total pleasure and a real creative collaboration too. It’s been frustrating I’ve never been able to reciprocate – there have been so few minority co-productions out of the U.K.”
Marmot points out that many European funding agencies believe it’s good for the development of their producers to partner as minority co-producers on other films. “As a production company, you get the creative and business experience of working with talent from abroad. It’s a great opportunity to develop your company.”
As well as opening up other avenues to financing projects, co-production is also about the diversity of storytelling. Cross-collaboration leads to better creative outcomes, reckons Peplow. “It’s always good to have another perspective to inform the process because it is going to allow you to understand how international audiences view a particular story.”